Friday, August 31, 2012

Racing - Why Junior Gear Limits?

At the Kermis last Friday someone asked about Junior gear limits, not to me directly but to an official. I heard some information that I didn't know before so I wanted to share them with the world. This may be old news for some but for me I learned something.

First off you'll want to know the rule. Basically it limits the highest gear a Junior can use in a race. The specifics sit in the USA Cycling (USAC) rule book, currently on their site here. In the first section, on page 50, you'll see the rule regarding the gear limit, with the actual limits on page 51.

The gear limit is a roll out of 7.93 meters, or about a 52x14. Since a huge tire will increase rollout there's only one way to check to see if your 52x14 is legal - do a roll out. In the old days the limit for the oldest Juniors was a 53x15 or a 7.47 meter rollout, and younger Juniors had to use a 53x16 or even a 53x17, depending on the age. Now it's a straight 52x14 for all ages.

To do a roll out you should mark off a length of hard surface 7.93 meters long, or 793 cm. You can mark this in the garage, on your driveway, maybe a sidewalk, but I would highly recommend not scratching marks in the hardwood floor in the living room.

Next put the bike in the biggest gear, the 52x14. Make sure the tires are reasonably inflated, i.e. they support the weight of the bike without deforming. Roll out is done without the rider on the bike so you don't need to weight the bike to compress the tires (which you want to do if you're calibrating your cyclometer).

Finally line up the crank on the first mark, pointing it straight down. Then roll the bike back in a straight line to the second mark. The crank should finish one revolution as you get to the mark. If it hasn't then you're over geared, usually because you have a huge tire on your wheel.

Remember there is no excuse for failing rollout! If you fit a 38c tire in your frame and you have a 52x14 you're going to fail rollout. You cannot use the "but I have a 52x14!" excuse. If the cranks don't do one revolution in your biggest gear in 7.93 meters you fail. You can always go shorter, like a 51x14, but there's no advantage to doing that.

Okay so that's the rollout rule. Why the heck is this rule in place? Why make racing even more difficult for Juniors to get into?

The main reason for the gear limit is the different levels of physical development in the under-18 set. A rider yet to go through puberty may be lining up against a rider that shaves daily. As an example when I first started racing I weighed in the 90 lbs range and I didn't have to shave. I would line up against guys who had 5 o'clock shadows and probably weighed close to 180 lbs. Two riders of different physical maturity levels will have dramatically different levels of absolute strength. Gear limits help (just help) level the playing field by reducing the impact of leg power.

Nowadays kids hit puberty a bit earlier than before. The gear limit is higher than it used to be, in reflection of that.

The gear limit, by reducing "top speed" (at least on the flats), reduces the effectiveness of aero equipment. Although not a huge thing it prevents physically mature riders from smashing the 53x11 at 38 mph on the straights. Using a 52x14 should allow most riders to finish a somewhat competitive flat race.

In this race I'm limited to a 39x11, the equivalent of a 53x15.
I didn't make the break or the chase but I won a lightly contested field sprint.

Finally a smaller top gear forces the rider to spin, teaching them good pedaling habits. If you see a Senior (i.e. 18 years old or over) rider who pedals very fluidly, they either worked on it consciously or they grew up racing Juniors. There are not that many Senior riders with pedaling deficiencies that consider working on pedal stroke to be an effective use of their time. As a Junior you have no choice.

Let me point something out - I don't recall seeing, in umpteen years of racing, a Junior that pedaled poorly. Senior riders, yes, all the time, and Masters, definitely, but Juniors? No.

I even note that my pedaling improves in the clip above.

Incidentally, after getting my butt kicked for 3 years as a Junior, my first Senior race I won every prime and won the race. The next Senior race I worked for a Senior teammate, leading him out to a win. The next Senior raced was a 6 sprint points race. I won the first two sprints, got 3rd in the next (caught a 4 lap break on the line but they got 1st and 2nd), then won the next 3 sprints. I mixed up my tactics, doing short sprints, long sprints, doing a full lap solo, starting the sprint from 20 riders back, getting led out, leading it out, etc. Yes, I used bigger gears, but I used what I learned about bike racing, partially because of the limitations imposed on me by Junior gearing.

I think that Cat 5s should also have gear limits. It's not just for developing knees, it's for developing racers.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Racing - Aug 24, 2012 CCNS Kermis Cat 3

Ever since CCNS announced they'd be holding a kermis race at Rentschler Field I wanted to do the race. I've done the real thing before, but only in races where I was way, way, way over my head. A kermis differs from a typical criterium in a few ways:

1. Longer course. In Belgium a kermis typically went around a 5-7 km course, or 3-4 miles. The CCNS kermis would do a 1.6 mile loop, so a good compromise between a crit and a semi-unmanageable circuit.

2. Longer straights. A Belgian kermis might have 5 or 6 turns in 5-7 km. This meant a lot of fast riding between the turns. In a crit there are some courses where you can barely take a few pedal strokes before hitting the next turn. In a kermis you bang the throttle to the floor, hold it there, and ease off just before everything blows up.

3. Narrow roads. A Belgian kermis would start and finish in a town setting but usually meandered into single lane farm roads next to fields and pastures.

A real Belgian kermis (I spelled it "kermesse" in my posts).
Yes, that's a hairnet on the 4th rider in the picture.

4. If you fall 3 minutes behind you get pulled. In my first real kermis I got unceremoniously yanked in one lap. My maximum speed was over 70 kph that day, on a flat course. For us Americans that translates to about 44 mph. And I got shelled so bad they pulled me.

5. In northern Belgium the courses tended to be flat with a decent amount of wind. You almost always end up in some kind of a crosswind situation. There's a reason the Belgians and Dutch are so good at holding position in massive crosswinds - they grew up racing like that.

The CCNS course seemed to me to be a great compromise between the races I normally do and what I'd call a "kermis". The longer course was fine, okay, but it also had some extended straights. In fact, in those 1.6 miles, I'd consider there to be only four real turns - a left at the end of the start/finish stretch, a U turn at the far end of the course, and a quick right-left leading into the finishing bit of road.

It also had some narrow, one lane roads. Well, technically they're bike paths, but they're brand new, they're a lane wide, and we'd follow them for a bit. Significantly the U-turn preceded the narrow roads so positioning could be critical for that section of the course.

Rentschler Field normally has a good amount of wind, just like the low lands of the Benelux countries. This would add proper feel to the race.

I took on additional responsibility for the race - I'd be doing the finish line camera stuff, picking numbers. With two helpers to take my place during the Cat 3 race (which I wanted to do), my biggest worry was dealing with the late finish of the P123 race. I expected it to finish at about 8 PM, by which time it'd be quite dark.

After a poor test on Thursday, where I couldn't pick out any numbers using a 100w flood light, I called in the reinforcements and showed up with 1700w worth of lights - a 500w light I already had and a new set of 1200w lights.

Jeff setting up 1200w of lights.

I figured the first three races would be fine, the last one would be tricky. The promoter had a light trailer thing too, one of those trailers with a generator inside and a tall pole with four lights. It certainly beat my 1700w setup but it sat too far from the line to offer significant help.

The first races went well. The promoter had decent fields, the races seemed quite interesting, and even in the Cat 4-5 race there were some serious attempts to break away from the field.

The kermis formula seemed to be working.

Like a springtime Bethel I got changed and ready to race while doing camera stuff. I knew I wouldn't have a warm up but with the long straights and a reasonable field I thought I'd be okay. After a lap or two I'd be plenty warmed up.

I lined up with the 3s with three teammates - SOC, Joel, and Mike. The latter was back from school - I hadn't raced with him since 2010, with maybe a Rent thrown in there. Joel and SOC were both riding well so we had a good group.

Personally I had no expectations. I'd take getting shelled but I'd also take being in contention.

We started off normally, no "at the gun" attacks. However, for the first few laps, two guys from the same team set a strong pace, one strong enough that no one wanted to dispute it. In fact, on the second lap, I'd moved up, and found myself a couple wheels behind one of the teammates. He resembled Cancellara (at least in my oxygen deprived state) and so that's what I labeled him.

"Cancellara" examining the damage.
I'm suffering at third wheel and we're strung out single file.

This is my view of the shot above. I'm not on the wheel and taking a lot of wind.
Heavy D, the photog, is on the right edge of the picture above.

The other teammate was more of a Ryder Hesjedal, tall and lanky, and he'd do some huge turns at the front too. He rolled up to the front before the hairpin at the back end of the course.

"Ryder" hitting the front, "Cancellara" sitting two wheels back.

With the two guys pulling like mad the first three laps went by very quickly. After my stint near the front I realized pretty quickly that if they kept up this pace and I tried to stay up there, well, frankly, I'd get shelled.

I drifted back.

The other Expo boys made moves, Mike making enough moves to count for the whole team. We didn't have a plan for the day - I was too focused on the finish line stuff to worry about racing stuff. I wish we worked together a bit because we'd have done better had we combined our strengths to get one rider up there.

Mike and SOC both made efforts in the last lap. I turned down assistance from Mike because I felt like I may not be there; in retrospect I think working for him or SOC would have been more productive than just riding.

Joel hung out near me during the race. He said a few things to me but I couldn't respond as I was absolutely redlined.

Each time we went by the start finish area I'd look over at Lance and Jeff (they were helping) in case they had looks of panic on their face. None, so that was good, and the Missus also looked pretty calm.

I kept racing.

With a 1.6 mile lap and the smallish field I figured I could wait until the last lap, push really hard just before the hairpin, and battle it out in the top 6 or so (i.e. from about 6th).

When we started down the corridor to the hairpin the pace went up, as expected.

What I didn't expect was a total lack of desire to push. I sat in the middle of the group, boxed in, and stayed there. I made no attempt to move out, no attempt to shoot through any gaps.

I just sat there.

We got around the hairpin safely and the front guys really punched it, stringing out the group.

I sort of started thinking about moving up, especially when SOC rocketed up the side, but I felt almost disconnected from my legs. I was thinking all sorts of tactical stuff but my legs were going just hard enough to keep me in the field.

Last real corner before the finish, about 500m away.

I made it through the last real corner, a left, then a right bend, and realized the front of the field was basically out of reach. I sat up, my brain accepting my legs' preference.

I stopped quickly and headed back to the tent. The Missus gave me my spot back and I started reviewing the finish line footage. At some point I headed to the car to get rid of my jersey and pull on a t-shirt. I slipped into my jeans too but I don't know when.

Pins. The number didn't flap.

The P123s had a fast and furious race, the largest field, the most aggressive racing. A crash marred the final lap but overall the race ended up hard fought and quite competitive. For me the scoring turned into a nightmare with the cameras ill suited for low light conditions. This is something to fix for the future - I'm thinking of a super high density of LED lights but I'm not sure how viable that would be. As it was the power cord to the 1200w lights got really, really hot, and I remember reading somewhere that most of the energy goes toward generating heat. If I could get the cooler LEDs to emit as much or more light (I remember one of the bike light companies had a bar of LED headlights, resembling a nunchaku handle, which had some insane amount of power, 100,000 lumens or something).

After everything finished it took a while to get things squared away. Without the big van it wasn't quite so straight forward to pack everything, and I had some extra gear (lighting, ladder) to haul. Even though I pawned off some large stuff onto others the car ended up packed to the gills. I need to get more efficient at doing this stuff.

The Missus had headed home with Junior shortly after the P123s finished. I followed an hour or three later. Once home I took my bike off the roof rack, brought in the bare minimum of stuff (dirty kit and electronics), and called it a night. It would be Monday morning before the exhaustion left my body.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Racing - Aug 21, 2012 @TuesdayTheRent

The last TuesdayTheRent means a few things to me. First, it's basically the end of the season. Second, it's almost the beginning of the off season. And third, based on some rumblings from the week before, it would be Retro Jersey Night.

Well now.

If you want to talk Retro Jerseys, I can talk Retro Jerseys.

There are two ways to do Retro Jerseys - prior (and usually extinct) personal kits or prior (and usually extinct) pro kits.

I have gobs of the first, a reasonable number of the second.

I rummanged through my four bins of clothing. Well, it's kind of three, one has mainly winter gear in it. Four, though, accurately represents my bin collection count. This doesn't include my primary and secondary gear bags which hold my current kit, gloves, shoes, socks, Halos, stuff like that. The four bins are the stuff I don't use outside anymore. Two bins for the trainer, two bins for memories sake.

I pulled out about half a bin of clothing.

I had a few ideas. The AKI/Gipiemme jersey is an old favorite. I love the Mapei kits but the shorts are a bit disintegrated. A real Moldavian National Champion jersey from the Saeco days. A real German National Champion jersey from the Telekom days. Fake Belgian Tom Steels jersey (I bought it). A Vibram kit from my friend Greg. And a bunch of old team kits, including one that had my bike shop on it.

I tried on the AKI/Gipiemme jersey first. Let me tell you, I think I was about 135 lbs when I rode in it. I have two left - one has its sleeves intact, the other has the sleeves cut off. I trained like that when I was really fit; in other words I haven't trained like that in a long time.

Well, I got the jersey over my head, got most of my arms through to the sleeves... and I was stuck. The jersey resembled a BMX tire, an unforgiving ring around the top of my torso.

I wiggled my arms helplessly, signaling to the Missus that, yes, I need help.

After careful extrication (don't want to rip the thing), I tossed all the jerseys that size over to the "don't use" pile. I also decided to toss the Tri State Velo jersey - Carpe Diem sponsored them but it's kind of a current team.

This left me with the Carpe Diem jersey from 1997, the Evolution Bicycles / Vantage Motors jersey.

The Missus said I really ought to wear that one. The bike shop, Mike's garage, Carpe Diem, it's all there.

Okay, so be it.

A few of the Expo guys haven't been racing long enough to have Retro Jerseys, and the few that have didn't have stuff that fit or they tossed them out. I gathered some other jerseys, threw them all in the wash (they'd been stored for about 10-15 years), and called it a day.

The Missus asked what shorts I ought to wear. We never had team shorts for the 1997 Carpe Diem Racing team. I briefly thought about wearing some plain Verge shorts but then I realized, you know, when a pro wears a "special" jersey (like the Leader's Jersey, a national team jersey, or a championship jersey) they wear their normal team shorts. I decided that I'd wear the standard Expo shorts and shoe covers.

I decided to clean my drivetrain right before the race, so about 10 minutes (it's been a while, else it'd have taken 5 minutes) of scrubbing and I got most of the well-rooted grease off of the chain, chainrings, and the pulleys. The training clincher's cassette got clean too but I didn't bother with the race wheel's cassette.

We headed over to the venue a bit tight on time. In order to avoid my car-queasy tendencies I drove and the Missus pinned my number. I'd already filled out a release and written the check, I had my USAC license, so I'd be legal to race.

The Missus used a lot of pins at my request.

Once at the venue the normal bantering grew a bit. We all grinned and pointed at everyone's ancient kits, looking for the genuine pro stuff, trading stories on what this was or that was. I figure the best one was Wade's genuine Swedish National Team jersey for Worlds, complete with a patch sewn over the then-illegal sponsor's name on the side panels.

I lent teammate Joel the Moldavian Saeco jersey, MM the Tom Steels jersey, and that was that. SOC wore his Italian Saeco jersey (Commesso? Cipollini?). If I'd worn my plain (and not true pro, it was from a store) Saeco jersey we'd have had three Saeco "teammates". Nonetheless I felt the obligation to fly the Carpe Diem colors.

The larger-than-normal group lined up for the start. One rider that barely made it was my friend Kevin from Colorado. He'd accompanied me to Interbike in 2009-2011, and I got to train at altitude in 2010 with him. He flew in earlier in the afternoon (to Rhode Island, where he's actually going), came to the race, bought an annual license, paid his entry, and started the race.

As he put it it was the most expensive race he's ever done.

We got the full Retro Jersey presentation as guys lined up. I saw some good ones, some standard ones, and some that I didn't recognize until I examined the pictures and read the logos.

With that we were off. The pace went pretty high straight from the gun, but with almost no wind and a large field, the group stayed together. Breaks never got more than a quarter or half lap ahead, and the field always stayed strung out in pursuit.

I settled into a nice groove. The bike felt like it pedaled a bit easier, perhaps because of the sparkling drivetrain. The tires felt good - I haven't used the Stingers in a bit but with the rear tire fixed for last Sunday's race I got to use them here.

I'd also gotten into a rhythm with the cornering. Sunday's 7 turn course acted as a good warm up for the cornering at The Rent and so I felt really comfortable and fluent as soon as we got going.

The pace seemed manageable with the larger group. I struggled hard out of Turn 3 every lap, easing only as we went by the start/finish area, but without any wind to hurt me elsewhere I could recover on the short bits between Turn 1-2 and Turn 2-3.

I usually start looking for lapcards way too early so I told myself to hold off. Wait for it, wait until I really need to see them, but don't look too early.

Round and round we went. I seemed to rotate to different positions within the 6 or 8 riders at the back. I  wasn't thinking moving up - my efforts after Turn 3 meant that I couldn't keep pushing else I'd be cooked for the next Turn 3.

I saved and waited and saved and waited.

One lap someone really put in a big move, a huge, huge move that totally strung out the field. I gritted my teeth and waited for the elastic to jerk me forward.

Wowsers. Really strung out.

I managed to hang on but now I needed the lap cards. The next time around I looked.

Lap cards to the right.

2 to go.


With the pace so high, the first 15 guys in single file, and struggling at that, I realized that it'd take me a good 2-3 laps to move up. Since I had about 1.9 laps left when I figured out what that "2" stood for I started moving up hard, right away. I tried to go hard before Turn 3, knowing that out of Turn 3 is the hardest/fastest bit.

Unfortunately the gaps started opening up in front of me, my punishment for tailgunning. The front still screamed forward, single file, while the field disintegrated behind.

Turn 3, coming up on the bell.

I jumped to get across one gap, then another, and then it was one lap to go.

I still pushed hard, trying to get up there. I wasn't sure if I'd have sprint left but it was worth trying. The riders weren't too tight, some were sitting up, others were content to sit on the wheels.

I fought.

Last turn, last lap.

I guess I managed to get inside the front 15 spots before my legs started to go. Two of the four riders in front of me blew up exiting the turn, and that left a pretty big gap for me to close just to get into the sprint.

I pulled the ripcord, checked left and right, and moved to the side.

I felt good, all considering. My legs weren't cramping. I wasn't going cross-eyed from effort. I actually felt kind of good. I mean, okay, it helped that I didn't actually sprint, but the race seemed... manageable.

I did a cool down lap and rolled over to the Missus. We gathered our stuff, packed up the car (the lack of wind meant mosquitoes were out - I got bitten about six times in a few minutes), and headed out for a post-race social.

I really liked the Retro Jersey thing. It's a great balance of fun and seriousness, letting riders express themselves (and showing a bit of history) while still maintaining the "we're here to train by racing" mentality.

So another set of Rents done. I really like these races. Depending on my fitness level I can either hang on (or not) or, if I'm feeling a bit more frisky, I can make moves and try things that I'm not necessarily ready to try in a weekend race. If I attack or bridge or something and blow up, it's okay. I've had my share of 2 or 4 lap races but I've also had some races where I rode really hard and did some good work.

I've never won an A race and I've never gotten into a successful break. I guess those are two things to work for in 2013.

Until then, though, to all a good night.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Racing - Aug 18, 2012 NE Masters Crits

Anyone that's been following my posts or seen me at the races knows that this year my fitness is pretty low, even for me, and that I struggle simply to finish races. I had a few reasonable races in the spring, at Bethel, but that almost doesn't count - it's my home turf, so to speak, and the course is about as optimal for me as it can get.

Last week was about as bad as it gets. In less than 5 miles I warmed up, started the race, got shelled, let the group lap me twice, jumped back in, sat up, and rode to the car.

That's a lot of nothing in 5 miles.

It's only natural that I felt a bit leery about this Sunday's race, the New England Masters Criterium Championships. Granted I had a reasonable race here back in May or something, but that was May or something. It was also an M45 race, not an M40. Back then I was still okay on the bike. Now I'm worse than I was back then.

Nonetheless we headed out. The Missus has some good friends that come to the races, everyone likes Junior, and I'm okay with getting shelled if that's what I'm meant to do.

I drove to the race this time, skipping sitting in the back seat. I didn't want to spend a couple hours back there, get to the race really queasy, and not be able to race (I think that was a huge part of last Tuesday's debacle, along with incredible fatigue). A good night's rest on Friday, a pretty tame Saturday, and a good night's sleep on Saturday helped tilt the odds in my favor.

Of course I didn't ride at all since Tuesday so my legs would be very, very, very fresh.

That's how I describe it anyway.

 Before the race.

I brought a bike bag for Shovel so he could bring his bike to Nationals. He returned some loaner wheels. Normally I don't bring so many wheels.

I got to the race with plenty of time before the start of the M40+ race. I registered, making sure that the check was made for the right amount. The registration folks noted that there was a $10 day of race fee. I told them I prefer to register day of race so I can pay the promoter more money.

(It's also nice because the promoter can count on pre-reg and day-of becomes a bonus.)

I guess that surprised them. For most races this holds true. I'm lucky that my fields don't fill; I sometimes pre-reg to assure myself a spot in the field.

They offered pins. I declined. It's a small thing, promoters paying for pins. It's $15 for 1440 pins, but it's still $15. I try to bring my own (this year I've been really good about it). I figure I got pins from 3 races. They get rusty so I have to unpin right away. I toss any rusty pins because they ruin your jersey at the very least, give you strange diseases at worst.

Number in hand I returned to the car. The Missus knew I needed to actually warm up a bit. With no ride since Tuesday's paltry race I'd need to ease my legs back into racing efforts. A leisurely warmup would help me immensely.

She made me promise to actually warm up, not to talk too much with the inevitable friends and people I see. After pinning my number, getting my race wheels up to pressure, and my electronics all straightened out (Sportsiiiis on but no HR strap - missed it somewhere), I rolled out.

And of course started talking with random riders warming up or cooling down.

I managed about 30 minutes of easy spinning, one minor jump to test the legs (they felt very, very, very fresh to put it politely), and a minute or two with SOC who wanted to make sure his rear tire was okay (it was).

With that we lined up for a smallish field, maybe 40 riders or so. M40+ so kind of appropriate. Some riders had just finished the 50+ so there would be some tired legs, but like the Leg Breakers at the Rent, these guys weren't too put off with the prior race. Me, I'd be thinking about rolling to the car. They were just getting warmed up.

Everyone looking down. Clipping in.

I discretely motioned to SOC, straddling his bike to my left. I wanted to point out some danger riders.

"That guy there (I point to my right) just won solo."
"That guy up there is one of the brothers."
"That's K."

Our plan went from "let's see what happens" to if the move goes and he felt okay, he should go. If not then we'd focus on the field sprint for whatever place.

I already met my goal of riding more than 5 miles, even if it was while I chatted with others. More honestly I wanted to not get too embarrassed, make it at least for a bit. If I could finish the race that would be great.

Anything more would be a bonus.

We started off and the field immediately strung out. The wind, so prevalent at Ninigret (a seaside former airfield), felt almost absent. That meant a reasonable tailwind on the finish stretch but the cross vectors worked out so that there wasn't really a massive crosswind anywhere.

The field, single file. Literally.

A few times a break would get a bit up the road but the reaction would pull everyone elastic-like back together. Finally, about halfway into the race, the proverbial break seemed to have gone up the road. I saw some good riders up there.

The gap, though, held steady at about 20 or so seconds. If I could get up to SOC and launch him off the front, I might be able to close half the gap before he'd see the wind. If that was the case he might be able to bridge.

I looked for an ally too, hedging on our move. I went up to Shovel, a good 55+ racer. Unfortunately he'd just done a huge turn at the front and he seemed a bit out of sorts. He didn't hear me and I really didn't hear him.

I asked him, "Do you want to bridge?"

Water from his bottle streamed out of his mouth, his face looked red from effort, and he wasn't looking very enthusiastic about making another huge effort.

I took that to mean "no" so I moved on.

After the race he asked me what I asked him. Apparently this is what he heard:

I roll up to him, turn my head to him.
"Grubumpiorhispts?" I ask.
"What did you say?" he replies.
By then I'd rolled away.

I got to the front two laps later than I should have, but my tactical wants and my legs' power didn't match each other. The tactics had to wait for two laps while I first gathered my breath to move up, then move up, and finally get near the front.

I saw SOC and called out his name. Apparently when I want to be discrete I'm yelling in my head but whispering out loud. I'm not sure he heard me because he basically ignored me.

I slapped my hip, the universal sign for "get on my wheel".

That he saw. He pulled out of the line of riders at the front and moved over to my wheel.

My view when SOC got on my wheel.

I gunned it.

Normally I don't like moving from very far back because I use half my attack just getting to the front. In this case it wasn't as critical - I wasn't going to be doing the actual bridging. More importantly the break had a couple more laps of freedom than I thought prudent - I knew the gap would be very hard to close.

The front is a bit splintered, with gaps here and there. This means it's a good time to go.

I went wide around the last turn because I didn't want to be too close to the others - I didn't want to bring everyone, just SOC and maybe one or two others.

Wade looks over as we go by. "Really?"

I looked back and saw that I'd gapped SOC just a bit; I eased just a touch.

Once we hit the straight I looked down and saw SOC's shadow directly behind me. I drilled it. I consciously moved my hands to the hoods, hoping this would give SOC a bit more draft.

I looked up to focus on our target.


I circled the break in the picture. It feels about as close to us as Curiosity is to Earth.

I shifted up, went harder, went faster. I had to get SOC within 10 seconds of the break before I blew up, so maybe 120-130 meters. If I dropped him off too far he'd blow up before he bridged.

I only made it down the main straight before the booster rockets ran out. I guess that run up the side for the whole straight before ate up some of my very limited "boost". I swung left to let SOC go but he had moved left also. A little misstep in the dance but he got going.

SOC going. The break is just going off-picture to the left.
We're not 100m away, more like 200m.

I looked to see where the break was relative to us. We were much too far. SOC would have a good 14-15 second gap to close. I figure a rider is good to close a 10 second gap solo. 15 seconds starts to push it so this would be touch and go.

I tried to recover before the field caught me. A good sign of our gap was that after SOC went I still managed to get around two corners and basically reach the third one before the field came by me. Some riders launched some belated counterattacks but it was too late - the last train had left the station, and it had one passenger: SOC.

I almost dropped out of the race but I grimly hung in there, the Dark Place, hoping the suffering would ease. I went into a tunnel vision place, a place I hadn't visited in a long time. I could only see the bikes immediately in front of me, the back half of them at that. I couldn't see beyond that - I was in that position that if people started stacking it up in the front I'd be tumbling over them a few seconds later.

I'd just lectured a newer racer about the importance of looking up so I tried to follow my own advice. I looked up when I could, to be more aware of what was happening in front of me. At least three times, though, I looked up and realized that I had no clue what had just happened beyond a 5 foot radius around me.

Finally I returned to some kind of normal discomfort. I managed to actually look around. I looked up the road for SOC. He dangled precariously off the back of the break.

Riders started congratulating me on making a good move, a smooth launch. They assumed that SOC bridged immediately. I deferred, pointing out that SOC had to bridge and sort of recover before I could call it a successful move.

I kept looking as we rounded corner after corner. SOC got within 5 or so seconds of the break but faltered. They were too steady, too fast, and SOC dangled tantalizingly out of reach until his legs went. That extra straight in the wind, before we went by the front of the field, probably cost him the bridge. If I had ridden a bit smarter or, more accurately, had a bit more gas, I could have brought him another 4-5 seconds closer and he'd have bridged. But I didn't and he didn't.

A few laps later he rolled backwards into the field.

No one said anything.

After he came back from the Dark Place (he too almost got shelled when he got caught), we both went about trying to do some kind of a sprint at the end of the race.

I did manage to slam my pedal to the pavement at some point. I remember SOC quickly rolling past after, kind of like what you do when a teammate makes a mistake and you really don't want to be around him, so I asked him if I'd caused any problems with my pedal dig.

"No, it didn't faze you so it didn't faze anyone else."

Some more resin donated to Ninigret Park.

I didn't want to use any of my reserves moving up, choosing instead to sprint from pretty far back. Problem was that a bunch of guys, their teammate/s in the break, sat up with half a lap to go. Three of them happened to be in the center of the group. The front half of the group ride away from us. The back half... that's where I was sitting.

A couple riders rolled by, I tagged along, but we hadn't made contact by the time the sprint started.

That group ahead is just starting to sprint.
Yeah, oops.

I never really jumped per se (1140w max), I just rolled hard all the way to the line. It was a much longer effort than a normal sprint - I'd have waited until after the turn to sprint, instead of going 100-150m before that turn. Nonetheless it was okay.

End of sprint.

In the end I probably got 20th or so (that's my generic guess whenever I'm not in the top 6 or so but not dead last).

In the medium picture, compared to last Tuesday, this race went super well. I finished, I did one (exactly one) move, and I had a medium sprint. Without much on the line it wasn't a super intense one, and I even stopped pedaling about a second before the line, but hey, it's all good.

I rolled for half a lap cool down then returned to the Missus and Junior. SOC had some unexpected news when they announced his name. Apparently on the lap we went they rang the bell for a field prime. We joked afterwards - we had a bigger goal in mind so we'd launched like we meant business. We could just hear the conversation in the field behind us.

"Wow, those guys want it bad. Man, for $10? If they need it that bad we should let them have it."

Apparently as surprised as we were the guy that thought he won it was even more surprised. When he crossed the line, thinking he had the prime, SOC was already a good 15+ seconds ahead.

We camped out for the final race, the M30+. It had a feel of the Rent when Max and Tim jumped away to an early lead. At one point gaining 25 seconds, they got caught by four others and that break won the race. Just like a Rent.

I was distracted by Junior and had to take a few pictures of him. He's a bit over 5 months old now, and weighs probably more than any one of our cats (our biggest is about 15 lbs). Junior can't crawl, really doesn't like to roll back onto his back, but he readily rolls onto his stomach and then kicks away with his feet like one of those army guys.

Well not really, the army guys actually crawl forward. Junior just kicks. We need to get him a kick board, he'd probably get going on one of those.

 Kicking but not going anywhere. Yet.
Very intent look on his face.

With the races over I finally packed up the car and unpinned my number, tossing the pins in the door side pocket. For the next race.

The Pin Job. No Flapping Allowed.

We headed out for a well earned meal, some conversation, and relaxation. Junior started to melt down so we had to head home a bit early, but it was all good.

Good weather, good race, good company.

Good times.

*edit some Strava screen shots from that day:

Finish/sprint screen shot

Fast lap screen shot (launch the chase)

SOC's chase (3rd)

My overall Strava day

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Racing - Aug 14, 2012 @TuesdayTheRent

I'm a bit hesitant to call it "racing". It doesn't even qualify for "training". I rode less than 5 miles in total before I put the bike back on the roof rack.

I had an inkling it wouldn't be good on the way down. I sat next to Junior in the back - usually this is how we roll now, with one of us sitting next to Junior - and I started feeling car sick/queasy. I'm really bad with motion sickness, boats, cars, buses, anything that rolls around. Usually it takes a bit before it goes away but this time it stubbornly stuck around.

I felt exhausted as well. Junior, very unusually, woke up at 3 AM in the morning and wouldn't go back to sleep until about 4:30, fussing much of the time. Since I don't have to get up at any particular time I take the early morning wake up calls. This unexpected 90 minute break from sleep wreaked havoc on the rest of my day. With Junior waking up for real at 8 AM I spent the day in a groggy, sleepy, "really want to take a nap" state. I had to run errands and with Junior's regular couple short naps a day schedule I had no chance to nap myself.

In fact, when the Missus got home, she took a look at me and asked me if I wanted to race at all. I figured we should at least go to the venue, even if I didn't race. I could relax, watch the race, and we could still meet up with SOC and Mrs SOC after the race.

I decided that I should try to race but maybe I should nap on the way there. Although I'm known for being able to sleep virtually anywhere, feeling queasy in the car wasn't conducive towards napping. I'm good anywhere location-wise but I need to feel tired and relaxed, not queasy and worried that it'd get worst. It was the last chance I had to nap before I kitted up for the race.

A nice thing about Tuesday's races is we use the same number weekly. I leave the number in the car, along with a slew of pins, and I usually have stuff ready to go when we arrive at the Rent. I also pre-fill a release form and pre-write a check so all I have to do is hand over the folded up release, check inside, sign the weekly sign-in, and I can race.

I felt so queasy I couldn't pin in the car. I did slip into the team shorts but saved any more complex maneuvers for stationary time, when I knew the car wouldn't be rocking and rolling.

I flatted my rear tubular at New London (although I didn't realize it until last Tuesday) and I haven't bothered gluing another tire on that wheel. I brought the matching front but faced with my topsy turvy stomach I decided just to put on the clinchers, leave them at whatever pressure, and ride.

(I should note that I rode Sunday for 2 hours and inflated the tires to just 85/90 psi. I fully expected the tires to be in the 60/70 psi range.) I swiggled the bike a bit, veerying left and right, and the tires seemed reasonable. I figured if nothing else I'd see what low pressure feels like in the turns.)

I kinda sorta meant to warm up but my stomach and fatigue led me to dwaddle near the start/finish area. A local (Legbreaker - he lapped us twice the evening before he went to solo to a win in a pro race) asked me about my pelvic fracture and recovery. Apparently he slid out recently and the impact fractured his pelvis.

Luckily for him he can put weight on it (I couldn't when I broke mine) so I expect him to recover quickly and completely. In fact based on the guys I know who broke bones who were there that evening (three came to mind immediately) then went on to have a spectacular next season, I expect him to be signing a pro contract by the end of 2013.

Whatever, I ended up doing a massive warm up that consisted of rolling over to Junior and the Missus, watched the former grin when he saw me, kissed the latter for good luck, and rolled to the line. I'd say it was a good 100 feet.

I still felt queasy.

We set off on a somewhat manageable pace. I mean, okay, the early guys that put in digs put in some good digs but on a normal night I'd have been okay, even this year. Instead I floundered at the back, my stomach doing flip flops but not really expressing an urgent need to void itself. I suppose if I made myself sick it'd have improved things but I haven't been able to bring myself to that ever and I wasn't about to start now.

Instead I drank some of the ice water, trying to calm my insides down. I wished I'd had a Coke, I know they seem to settle things down (must be the acid?).

At some point I moved out of line and drifted off.

I let the group pass me once while I rolled at some unimaginably slow pace. I jumped on when they passed me again, hitting my max wattage for the night of 940w, but in half a lap I sat up.

I had nothing.

I rolled back to the Missus. Junior broke out into a big grin. Things were good.

I went to the car to change and grab the camera so I could take some shots of the rest of the race. When I was about to walk back I noticed the sun setting. This was the second last Rent of the year. After next week there aren't that many races left.

The CCNS Kermis on Friday August 24th.

White Plains Crit on Sunday September 16th.

And that'll be the season. I'm already thinking of next year but the winter feels cloudy. Life isn't just about me and the Missus anymore. It's about me and the Missus and Junior. We'll have to see what I can and can't do over the winter, see how things go.

The immediate helps keep me distracted. I want to glue a new tire on the rear Stinger. I want to get into the Tsunami 1.1 build. I need to do stuff around the house. I have projects.

But for now I'll leave you with this.

The sun sets on another Rent.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Racing - Aug 7, 2012 @TuesdayTheRent

Not much to report from the race Tuesday.

Short version - I got shelled.

Medium version - a huge early move went, the remnants of the group eventually bridged, and a new composite group finished the race together, minus a few strong guys off the front, and I couldn't hang when the second group did the merge with the first group.

Long version goes as follows...

The Family headed over to the Rent for one of the last three Rents scheduled for the year. It's always a bit bittersweet, coming to the later Rents. The good thing is I have some more fitness because it's later in the season. That combined with a lot of other racers getting burnt out (or tapering for cross) means I may be able to finish a race. The bad thing is that the regular weekly racing I enjoy will draw to a close.

We had an unpleasant beginning to the race - a rider fell just wrong in the B race, breaking a bunch of stuff, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. A huge fire truck also responded (complete with a huge ladder). Ironically one of the first responders to my crash here back in 2009 was one of the fire truck's crew. The Missus said hi and such to him, a good guy. He's appeared in a few clips in 2010, but after some bad luck and a couple crashes he quit the sport that year.

For this week I wanted to wear the jersey. SC (as the members refer to it) is a smaller cycling forum that I read. They needed some money to seed the site so I sponsored the jersey. I hadn't worn it outside yet, just on the trainer, and I wanted to fly the colors at least once this year.

(As an aside I also wanted to break the superstition thing about wearing a non-kit jersey - on one of the only days I raced in a non-kit jersey in 2009 I ended up crashing and fracturing my pelvis in two places.)

As expected the race started with a couple solid attacks in the opening laps. Groups of four or five started drifting off the front, and suddenly something like half the field was up the road.

The first move, 4 guys, 1 guy launching a bridge, and the field. 

Usually a large group lacks cohesion. Not every strong rider makes it up there and often a number of opportunists (i.e. a weak rider like me) may be able to bridge before the gap gets too big. This leads to some uneven strength in the group which then causes the lack of cohesion.

This "unglued" bit manifests itself in a few different ways. The break may initially work well together as everyone takes their turn at the front. The overall speed won't be super high though as the slower riders bring everything down a notch.

As the riders get tired and the little gaps in different fitness levels open into chasms the break will start to stretch and contract like an ameoba. A strong rider may pull kind of hard, causing gaps to open, and only when a weaker rider goes through a bit slower will the group come back together.

Strong riders will also attack to try and pare down the break, jettison the weaker riders. This just encourages the weaker riders to stop taking pulls, increasing the load on the stronger riders, and reducing the strength differences temporarily.

Finally the weaker riders will crack, the stronger riders take off, and the break disintegrates.

If the field has been working diligently and stays within reach the whole race can come back together.

A couple Rents ago this happened. It was like a Tour stage, the race scenario basically reset at the end of the race. In the last five laps that evening the remnants of the field caught the remnants of the break, making for an exciting finish for the spectators. I, unfortunately as a rider but fortunately as a spectator, had been reduced to spectator status by then. At least I got to watch and learn.

Therefore when a large break went away this time I hoped that a few strong riders had missed the move. Looking around the second group I saw Tim, an always impressive motor, most of the Horst Engineering squad, and many of the Central Wheel riders. This boded well - Horst did much of the work that other week to bring back the break, and Tim could singlehandedly bridge a minute gap.

I did miss one guy, Dave G, who I noticed for the first time literally a couple laps before he sat up. He must have been chasing at the front because he certainly wasn't behind me. Always a classy rider (former Cat 1 and one of the best amateurs on the East Coast back in the day), when he finally sat up he gave me a power assist that helped me close the gap and then some.

Power assist coming up!

A couple Rents ago, struggling in the field, I kept finding myself behind a guy leaving a gap in the turns. The first couple times he left a gap I worried about trying to close it but he closed it on his own. The next few times I figured he was about done so I set about closing them myself.

I finally realized that he was so strong that he could afford to let gaps go then leisurely close them after the turn. I stuck stubbornly to his wheel whenever he let a gap go and he closed them all himself. Eventually we got to sprint for the finish line.

This week I found myself behind the same guy. Instead of worrying too much I let him do his thing. If a couple weeks ago indicated anything then he was plenty strong and if he let gaps open up in turns it was all good.

Unfortunately this week wasn't quite like that.

Rider ahead leaves a big gap.
The other week he left gaps like the one between the last two riders ahead of us.

A 10 foot gap is... not great but it's okay. A 40 or 50 foot gap isn't good at all and with a pretty stiff crosswind coming up after Turn 3 I had to close the gap.

I set off, no real hard acceleration, just rolling up the gear I happened to be in - I had no more than that to give. I started to struggle a bit at my very unimpressive speed when I saw a rider come up next to me.


Lance pulling through.

My teammate Lance, not the one that wants to do triathlons. Lance was one of the instrumental teammates who helped me take the 2010 Bethel Spring Series, and he can motor like there's no tomorrow when he's on form. With some time off this season he was just getting back on the bike and he wanted to do something in the race before he dropped off.

He looked at me as he rolled by so I swung on his wheel. Suddenly it felt much easier (drafting someone does that) and we led the back half of the back group to the front half.

The guy leaving the gap started leaving bigger and bigger gaps. He looked elsewhere for help but we were basically cooked, else we'd have gone around him before he left the gap.

At one point he swung left and kind of drilled it, pushing the pace to keep us in touch with the break up the road. It could have been an attack or it could have been a cup of cold water thrown in our faces to wake us up. Whatever it was I swung over too and doggedly stuck on his wheel. He duly led the group around for about a lap before he eased. I couldn't pull through so I swung off with him, and I think the guy behind me was in the same situation. The group collectively slowed and unfortunately wasted that guy's efforts.

Every week I start looking for the 5 laps to go marker - I can make it if I get that far. This week I could see that the break had started to come back, thanks to some lap or two lap pulls by Tim and a couple of the Horst Engineering guys. Each of those guys would sit at the front for a long time, driving hard but steady. The once half lap lead fell to about 15 or 18 seconds. I hoped that things would come together in time for the sprint and I hoped that I'd be in the group when it did.

The break started attacking itself, the stronger riders now thinking they could make it to the finish, the weaker ones trying to hang on.

This only fired up the pace in the much-reduced field.

The last move I really saw was when Tim and two of my teammates rolled off the front of the group. I sat nearby and when the Central Wheel rider in front of me couldn't go, I had a choice to make. I could chase or I could "not chase".

Gap to Tim - he's in white. SOC is up there and one other teammate.
Just to the left of the center lamp post is the front group - maybe 100m away.

Technically I shouldn't chase because I had two teammates up there in a group of three. Technically I should have let someone else close most of the gap and then counter-attacked them, or let them close the whole gap and then tried to bridge to the front group.

Because it's a training race, because I knew Tim would drive until he bridged to the front group, because it's meant to be fun, I decided I'd bridge the gap.

This time I had no Lance to give me a spell, no shelter offered by a friendly wheel. I rolled across the gap myself, at whatever speed I could pull from my legs, dragging along whoever wanted to come along. The front group was just ahead.

The pull killed me though, and although I tried to hang on to the back of the group I slipped off. A lap later they put the 5 to go out. Maybe letting someone else close that gap would have been the right thing to do, but realistically it wouldn't have made a difference. I'd have had to make some hard efforts once the two groups merged and I wasn't strong enough to make just one effort.

I stopped and chatted a bit with Lance and other guys hanging out at the finish. SOC rolled in, a good effort that kept in the hunt until the very last barrage of attacks.

He commented briefly that one of the leg breakers Aidan had commented on his bridge to the first break. Basically Aidan told him that if he can bridge then he can pull too. Ultimately SOC came off but we learned the lesson there (combined with one I learned recently here - at least pull through and off). We all wondered if he'd committed a faux pas in Aidan's eyes (and therefore a genuine faux pas).

We were grinning like naughty schoolboys when Aidan rolled over. He started to address SOC but then realized that the rest of us were paying attention too. You could see him recalculate the approach.

"Hey, you want to do a cool down lap with me?"

We all looked at SOC who'd turned bright red on cue. We were all thinking the same thing - trouble!

We discretely kept an eye on the two of them. They seemed to be talking in a normal way, no animation, no fighter pilot hand gestures showing swerving and the like.

When SOC returned we all crowded in.

"So what did he say?"

He wouldn't say, but later he explained. Of course SOC is an adult and he can take constructive criticism, so he opened the conversation. Aidan, if you don't know, is an ex-pro, a current Cat 1, and a respected coach in the area. Any feedback from him, whether requested or not, will be good solid feedback. Therefore SOC knew that whatever Aidan said would be significant.

The conversation went something like this:

"So, um what did I do wrong?"
"Well I must have done something wrong in the race. I can take constructive criticism."
"Didn't I make a mistake or something, you know, when I didn't pull through?"
"No, you're racing well, you're strong, you're fine."
"When we were in the break you said something about leaving a gap."
"Well, that's not your problem, right? If you leave a gap it's the people behind you's problem."

SOC rethought the whole scenario. What else could it be? Maybe Aidan is recruiting? That's one powerhouse teams in the area. Are the team bikes free? The Raleighs seem pretty sweet. Kits, they must have a lot of kits.

SOC listened intently to what Aidan had to say.

Sadly enough Aidan stuck a pin into that big bubble. His question had nothing to do with racing per se, it had to do with regular stuff, familiar stuff for SOC.

SOC grinned sheepishly when he told me that story. I couldn't help but exclaim that I was thinking the exact same thing!

We laughed together. Good thing we're racing for fun.

As quickly we rise, so we fall.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Advocacy - Central Park Scoflaws!

At the supermarket just now I couldn't help but notice this on the front page of the Daily News, an article about the dangerous speeding cyclists in Central Park ("Fast and Furious in Central Park"). They point out that in 30 minutes they clocked 16 cyclists going faster than 25 mph with one of them hitting 30 mph! (exclamation mark theirs).

I thought about this on the drive home (I saw the headline on the way out). First off I think that if they set up a similar "speed trap" on the West Side Drive or on the FDR they'll find plenty of cars going well over the speed limit, either 5 mph (pure speed) or 25% over the posted limit (kinetic energy?). I know that the flow of traffic is sometimes 70 mph on the FDR and the posted limit is 50 mph I think. The West Side is tighter and has lower speed limits but you wouldn't know that - even I avoided that side when I could, and I don't mind driving along a twisty road with narrow lanes.

I should commend NYC though. Seriously. The 25 mph speed limit seems pretty good - it's a realistic speed that is "fast" for normal people. I noticed this with some of NY State's speed limits - when they mark a corner "50 mph", it means that unless you know the curve it really is 50 mph, and even if you know it but you're driving a heavily laden van, 50 mph is the limit.

Here in Connecticut they put low speed limits on the road. A 25 mph exit ramp means 40 mph. Even the top dog of the DOT admitted, in not so many words, that those posted limits are not set in stone, they're more like suggestions when the weather gets worse. Or something like that.

(Of course when you put a Connecticut driver on unfamiliar New York roads you get some interesting stuff going on. I loved going into known-to-me New York exit ramps with a Connecticut driver tailgating me like it was the last lap of the Daytona 500. When I take a good line, do a nice late apex, I'll look in the mirror as the car behind me slows and almost plows into the guardrail.)

The same goes for bicycle speed limits in Connecticut. On the trails around here it's 12 mph (I heard it's higher in spots but I have no proof) and they enforce them sporadically but strictly with ATV-mounted patrols. Fines apparently run close to $100. Yikes, right?

At any rate 12 mph is very slow on a bike, at least on level ground. I can't sustain that up Palomar Mountain but on a normal road bike it'll go about that fast with barely any input to the pedals.

What's 25 mph? What's 30 mph? How's it affect safety (because that's the main concern)? Stopping distance is very similar between the two speeds and a rider can swerve to avoid someone too.

The key here is that it's a bicycle and not a car. With a modern car you slam the brake pedal to the floor, steer where ever you see a gap, and the car will do whatever it can to help you accomplish your desired trajectory.

Bicycles... they have to be finessed. A skilled rider can do amazing things on a bike. A less skilled one can do just as amazing things, just in a negative way.

I get into regular debates about holding the bars on the hoods or the drops or the tops. I don't use tri bars but that would be an additional factor.

Hand position is critical to bike control. Let's face it, 25 mph on the tops isn't that great because it'll take half a second to get to the brakes, more if you're sitting really far upright and need to get your torso down to reach the drops.

On the other hand 25 mph on the drops and I think only an unskilled rider would hit something acting reasonable on the road, i.e. a pedestrian, a jogger, etc, traveling in some reasonable manner. A dog that darts out from behind a person, maybe not so good.

It got me thinking of the time I parked my car in NYC. I saw the parking rules sign on the post but for the life of me I couldn't interpret them. No parking during business hours, parking on Sat and Sun, but not during certain days, etc etc etc.

I couldn't follow the logic (and I'm usually good at word/logic problems) so I stopped a parking ticket cop to see if it was okay to park there, at that time, for about an hour.

The cop looked up at the sign, squinted, and read.

Thought about it for a bit.

"Yeah, you're fine here."

I think he meant "You're going to be fined here" because when I returned to the car I had some astonishing $ parking ticket, courtesy the NYPD.

Anyway, I thought of that because a speed limit on a bike is really dependent on the rider and their riding position. I think the law ought to read something like this:

"The speed limit for bicycles is 25 mph if you're on a regular road bike on the hoods. It's 30 mph if you're on the drops; 20 mph if you're on the tops; 21 mph if you're on the tops and you have cyclocross cheater levers; 14 mph if you have the old fashioned safety levers; 16 mph if you're on tri type aero bars; 12 mph if those tri type aero bars have brake levers on them; 17 mph if you're on a fixie (regardless of hand position); 25 mph if you're on a fixie but you can do a stoppie, a slidy, or you have a brake on the bike; 30 mph if you're a bike messenger (gotta pay rent); 27 mph if you're on a mountain bike; 29 mph for BMX bikes; 20 mph for coaster brake bikes; 16 mph for 3 speeds with steel caliper brakes; reduce speeds by 30% if it's raining lightly, 10% if it's raining heavily; reduce speeds by 20% if it's snowing and icy; 5% if it's snowy but not icy; 50% if it's straight ice; 15% if it's fall and there are leaves on the ground; increase speed limit by 20% where the horses poop on the road (no pedestrians and everyone wants to get out of there quickly); if there is a child on a 20" wheel bike then reduce by 30%, 16" wheel bike 50%, and 12" wheel bike 75".

I think that's perfectly clear and it's fair and should be reasonably safe.

Monday, August 06, 2012

How To - Clipless Pedal Shoe Fit

So you're looking for a new pair of shoes.

If you've bought them before, if you've been on clipless pedals for a while, it's not that complicated. You figure out if there are any quirks to a new shoe, check out fit, and you buy them.

I find it interesting that even the most fervent online buyer will go and try on (and buy) shoes of a new manufacturer in a bike shop. Granted, once you know a particular shoe fits then you can buy another one (same model/make) confident it'll fit the same.

Just like other shoes, if you're an experienced clipless pedal user buying a different manufacturer shoe, it is critical to try them on. Why do you think they have shoe size runs at Interbike? It's so the dealers can try on the shoes, see how they fit, and get an idea of what sizes to buy. If they don't fit the dealers will scream and the manufacturer will probably change them.

If you're new to the clipless scene how do you check fit?

Believe it or not it's best to have one helper. It could be the person in the shop or it could be a buddy of yours. Make sure they're not squeamish about touching your shoe while it's on your foot. Got it? Okay, head out to the shop.

The reason you need help with the fit is that your shoes perform under different circumstances than when you're standing around trying on the shoes. It's easy to check for fit when you're pressing down on the shoe. This is like when you're standing with that shoe on your foot. It replicates pushing down on the pedal on the downstroke.


With clipless pedals you also pull up on the shoe. You're pulling up against the upper of the shoe. Even the original "clipless compatible" shoes by certain manufacturers didn't take into account the pulling up factor - that's why you saw so many riders with either maxed out laces, extra straps or three, etc. The uppers at the time (mid 80s) were designed for toe clips and straps and to have a strap take the upward force, not the shoe's upper.

Nowadays pretty much all clipless type shoes have reasonable uppers that resist the upward motion well. If you're new to clipless you will not know how these shoes should fit or feel. They should be pretty snug on the upstroke, not just on the downstroke.

So how do you check? You have someone hold the toe and the heel of the shoe (on the outside, like grasping just the sole part of the shoe, not holding the uppers) and you lift your foot up flat footed.

 Since I took the pictures I took one side at a time.
This is how your helper should hold the front of the shoe.
Note that the fingers are not holding your foot down, just the shoe.

This is how your helper should hold the rear of the shoe.
Again, note that the fingers are not supporting the foot, just holding the shoe.

A "normal comfortable" shoe will immediately feel loose as you lift virtually your whole foot off the sole of the shoe. You'll be shocked at how easy it is to lift your foot right off the sole.

You should strive for maintaining some contact with the outside of your foot. The inside will lift or unweight and that's normal.

Cinch down on the straps/buckles/wire/whatever and make sure you can achieve a reasonably snug fit on the upstroke.

This is where you check for hot spots and shoe width/narrowness. You may disagree with a seam or something on the inside of the shoe, on the upper. Again, this is something you only feel when pulling up, not when you're walking around the bike shop floor.

Make sure you don't max out the straps just getting the shoe reasonably snug on the showroom floor. Your feet shrink quite a bit when you ride - I find myself clicking a good 2-4 clicks tighter in the first hour of riding and another click or three when I get ready for the sprint. That's maybe 2 cm of tightening - it's a lot. If you have narrow feet the shoe may not accommodate that kind of snugging up.

 You can see that it's possible to adjust the "base" of the strap.
I've clicked it a couple clicks tighter than "factory".

If you look carefully you can see some silver smudges on the ratchets - that's where the buckle engages.
It used to engage up to the last notch, now max is about the 3rd one.

Flex your ankle a bit. You'll do that naturally when pedaling. If you have a really pronounced Achilles tendon you may not like the heel area of the shoe. I personally like a really deep heel cup and I learned that similar models within the same line of shoes ended up with different heel cup depths (Sidi shoes).

The heel of the Sidi. It's not the deepest but it's deep enough. Cutout is for Achilles.

Finally you need to make sure that the shoe works with your pedals. Unless you have bizarre leg issues you won't need massive amounts of adjustment in the pedal, and even if you do there are ways to do it with virtually any shoe (you just have to "modify" the shoe). Therefore I recommend going with a very straight forward, very simple, very easy to deal with pedal - the Looks or the Shimanos.

The ubiquitous Look Keo cleat mounted to the shoe via the ubiquitous "3-bolt pattern".
It's hard to go wrong with a popular standard that works well and is readily available.
On my Sidis there's an adapter plate for different pedal mounting systems, but most shoes don't have that.

You can go into virtually any shop in the country and find cleats and maybe even pedals. You know, like if you fly to Las Vegas for a bike trade show and then realize you forgot your pedals back at your house.

They're easy to get into, they're reasonable to walk on, and they have a reasonable overall weight (some "lightweight" pedals have cleat assemblies that weigh as much or more than the pedal itself). Pretty much every single clipless road shoe out there works with the Look 3 bolt pattern (which Shimano uses too).